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Life of Biggie: From obesity and homeless shelters to the big time

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3:14 PM ET

For Caleb Swanigan, Purdue’s star power forward, it’s the cheesecake.

It’s always the cheesecake.

“I’m a dessert person,” he told ESPN.com. “I’m not a potato chip [eater]. I can say no to those easy, but desserts are really my thing.”

The sophomore knows one dessert could become two, then three, and over time, unhinge the weight roller coaster he rode to 360 pounds the summer before eighth grade.

Throughout his youth, he floated between unstable housing situations and homeless shelters, back and forth between Indianapolis and Utah, as his mother, Tanya, tried to stabilize her life with six children, all while his father, Carl Swanigan Sr., wrestled with a crack-cocaine addiction. Swanigan developed a complicated relationship with food as he was surrounded by the unhealthy options peddled to those who can’t afford to consider quality — sugary cereal, ice cream, pizza. Today, however, the projected All-American resists the demon that haunted him before he lost more than 100 pounds in high school.

“You think it’s something really small, but it just builds up,” he said. “One meal won’t kill you, but if it becomes three or four meals that are bad in a row, that’s when it starts to hurt your body.”

Things were different in Utah, where he spent a chunk of his childhood and ballooned in his youth. Then, he could not seek advice from Purdue’s strength and conditioning staff, which now designs the day-to-day meal guidelines he consults as he fights to maintain his sculpted, 6-foot-9, 245-pound frame and to avoid the obesity challenges his family endures.

Caleb’s father, who stood 6-foot-8, weighed nearly 500 pounds when he died three years ago, at the age of 50, of complications related to diabetes. Years of drug abuse had affected his health, too.

Before his death, Carl Swanigan Sr. played a minimal role in his son’s life. Caleb was only 16 years old when he lost his father, but his father’s weight challenges became the son’s, too. The Purdue standout visited his father in a Utah nursing home before his death in 2013.

As a child, Swanigan ate according to availability. He did not have an abundance of good choices.

“It is a lot more expensive to eat healthy than it is to eat unhealthy,” Swanigan said. “If you’re in a position to eat right, then you should eat right. Sometimes, financially, it just isn’t

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